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Spiritual Reality: Francis Schaeffer on the Christian Life (William Edgar)

In the most recent issue of Credo Magazine, “Francis Schaeffer at 100,” William Edgar has contributed an article titled, “Spiritual Reality: Francis Schaeffer on the Christian Life.” First, a little about Edgar. William Edgar is Professor of Apologetics at Westminster Seminary. Along with K. Scott Oliphint, he is the author of Christian Apologetics Past and Present (Vol. 1 and Vol. 2). He is also the author of the forthcoming book with Crossway, Schaeffer on the Christian Life.

In his article Edgar explores Schaeffer’s understanding of sanctification and Christian living. Here is the introduction to his article:

Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984) is most often remembered for his apologetics. He had a unique way of persuading all comers that the Christian Faith is true and ought to be embraced. He could expose the inner contradictions of the most rationalistic materialist or the most irrational mystic. Fewer people remember him for his teaching on sanctification, or the Christian life. Regrettably so, because according to Schaeffer himself it was his convictions and practice about spirituality that were at the heart of the work of l’Abri, where so many lives, including my own, were turned around.

The Crisis

The Schaeffers moved to Europe in 1948, believing that the crucial battle lines were there. While teaching churches at home and abroad about the dangers of the surrounding culture, its parallels in modern theology, and the urgent need to stand clearly for the gospel, Schaeffer came to discover that something was missing in his life. The way he often put it, he found himself severely deficient in reality. He was a believer, but the present work of the Lord in his life was not being felt. As he describes the problem, which he does throughout his writings, his letters and his speeches, the fervor and warmth he had known as a new Christian were on the wane. He entered a serious crisis. In the Introduction to True Spirituality he says it this way:

Gradually, however, a problem came to me – the problem of reality. This had two parts: first, it seemed to me that among many of those who held the orthodox position, one saw little reality in the things that the Bible so clearly says should be the result of Christianity. Second, it gradually grew on me that my own reality was less than it had been in the early days after I had become a Christian. I realized that in honesty I had to go back and rethink my whole position.

We do not know all the causes that brought him to such a point of crisis. No doubt, there was a cumulative effect. Schaeffer was unsettled by the criticism launched at him for moving to Europe by his mentor Allan MacRae. Professor MacRae had wished for him not to move to Europe, and had also begun to differ with Schaeffer’s hard-line. But Schaeffer was increasingly drawn to the European theater for a number of reasons, including his sense that the historic heartland of Western Christianity was flagging, and leading the rest of the world in an unhealthy direction.

A more significant lead-up to his crisis was an increasing concern that “The Movement” of which he was a part was not treating outsiders, or even colleagues, with love and respect. While studying at Westminster Theological Seminary, the Schaeffers were drawn to a group that held a strong position on premillennialism as well as a commitment to eschew the so-called “liberties,” smoking, drinking, dancing, gambling, and the theater. They were swayed by the leadership of Allan MacRae, J. Oliver Buswell, and the fiery Carl McIntire. Schaeffer joined “The Movement,” finished seminary at their newly founded Faith Theological Seminary in Wilmington Delaware, and became the first ordained minister in the new Bible Presbyterian Church. McIntire was the founder of both the ACCC (American Council of Christian Churches, 1941) and the ICCC, (International Council of Christian Churches, 1948), counterparts to the National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches, which were deemed apostate. But later, they would come to believe their position was overly harsh.

In August, 1948, Schaeffer was an organizing delegate to the ICCC in Amsterdam, which would become the headquarters. Significantly, it was during the meetings of the ICCC that he met Hans Rookmaaker, whose fiancée, Anky Huitker was one of the administrators. Francis and Hans would become the closest of friends. As their friendship grew, they both expressed a growing concern for their mutual spiritual coldness. No doubt some of that stemmed from the separatist mentality of their church traditions. Rookmaaker had joined the Vrijgemaakt (Liberated) Churches as a new Christian in 1945. Although he would always be faithful to that denomination there were times when he experienced some of the same kinds of dryness as his new friend coming from America. At any rate, this growing conviction about the lack of reality in “The Movement” simmered, until it finally burst into a serious crisis of faith.

A third cause, surely not incidental, came as the result of Schaeffer’s encounters with Karl Barth, no doubt the twentieth century’s most influential theologian. Barth distinguished himself by strongly opposing theological liberalism. Liberalism in all its varieties horizontalised the Gospel, making it all too human. Instead, Barth and the Neo-orthodox movement aspired to reemphasize God’s full transcendence, to the point where at least Barth himself rejected anything resembling natural theology. Schaeffer had been concerned to combat liberalism. But he had not found Neo-orthodoxy (as Europeans tended to call it, “Dialectical Theology” or, sometimes, “Crisis Theology”) to be any improvement. Neo-orthodox theology differed in a number of crucial ways from the historic Christian position. Whereas the traditional Reformed view of election is that God from all eternity graciously chooses his people for salvation, Barth taught that divine election as well as reprobation are not of individual humans. Instead, both center in Jesus Christ, who is God’s elect for all people, and who became condemned for the sake of all people. For all intents and purposes, this had the feeling of universalism about it, something evangelicals at the time rejected. Furthermore, whereas the traditional view of the Bible is that it is God’s inspired Word, without error in all that it affirms, Barth held that only Christ is the true Word, and while the Bible contains God’s Word, it is not to be equated in any literal sense with God’s verbal revelation.[3] Though he recognized the differences, Schaeffer characterized both liberalism and Neo-orthodoxy as belonging to “The New Theology,” finding that their “existentialist methodology” is basically the same. If the Bible cannot be equated with the Word of God, then we can only meet him, in effect, by a leap into the dark, a mystical step of faith.

Read the rest of Edgar’s article today!


To view the Magazine as a PDF [download format=”2″ id=”6″]

The year 2012 is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984). It is difficult to think of an evangelical figure in the 20th century who so seriously engaged the philosophies and ideologies of the secular world and set them over against the Christian worldview than Francis Schaeffer.

But Schaeffer was no ordinary evangelical. The man wore knickers and knee high socks when he lectured, sporting not only long hair but a goat’s-chin beard! Most importantly, Schaeffer did not fear man, but feared God. Not only did he engage secular worldviews, but he confronted his fellow evangelicals, even rebuking them for doctrinal concession and compromise.

As many have observed, it is not an overstatement to say that the Schaeffers transformed, reshaped, and in many ways reformed American evangelicalism. Those writing in this new issue of Credo Magazine are proof, each writer bearing testimony to how Francis Schaeffer has made a monumental impact on how we understand and articulate the Christian faith and life in the world of ideas. Contributors include Bruce Little, William Edgar, Bryan Follis, and Stephen Wellum, and many others.

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